TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State played with fire and made some very unfortunate history.
The Seminoles – who had won all 26 games against FCS competition since the division was created in 1978 – saw that streak end Saturday.
Thanks to a 59-yard touchdown pass from Jacksonville State’s Zerrick Cooper to Damond Philyaw-Johnson as time expired, the Seminoles fell 20-17 to the Gamecocks in front of a frustrated crowd of 60,198 fans at Doak Campbell Stadium.
It was the longest game-winning touchdown pass as time expired in an FBS game since Sept. 16, 2017.
FSU allowed 13 points over the final 4:45, blowing a late 17-7 lead to suffer the defeat which drops them to 0-2 on the season.
It was a game that started very slowly for the Seminoles, who didn’t score until there was 5:01 left in the second quarter. And yet, they seemed in control of a sloppy win until the waning minutes.
Trailing 17-7, the Gamecocks rattled off a 97-yard touchdown drive – heavily aided by penalties – to cut the deficit to 17-14 with 4:45 left.
FSU gave the ball back with 1:32 left on the clock after having to punt. The Gamecocks weren’t moving the ball at all until the big play as Cooper aired it out to Philyaw-Johnson who caught it and cut back, using a blocker to reach the end zone and shock the Seminoles. It was an 83-yard drive over the final 92 seconds, almost entirely on the final play.
The loss ruins a significant moment for UCF graduate transfer quarterback McKenzie Milton got to start against JSU. It was his first start in nearly three years since he suffered a catastrophic knee injury back in November of 2018.
While he got the lion’s share of the quarterback reps after Jordan Travis started the first game of the season, nothing was able to get the FSU offense started.
The Seminoles took their first lead with nine seconds left in the half on Milton’s first touchdown pass since his injury to tight end Wyatt Rector. However, they managed just three points the rest of the way, squandering chance after chance to put the game away.
The Seminoles were outgained by JSU 350-335 and managed just 133 passing yards.
Offensive momentum hard to come by
After a banner day from the FSU offense last Sunday against Notre Dame, Saturday’s offensive showing was one to forget.
Facing a JSU defense that allowed 517 yards in its first game of the season against UAB, the Seminoles never quite found their footing.
It started from the very first drive where FSU wide receivers dropped a pair of well-thrown downfield passes, including one that would have been a touchdown on fourth down.
In many ways, that set the tone for an error-prone, offensively-barren game for the Seminoles.
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The ground game was the only thing the Seminoles had going for the majority of the game. They racked up 202 rushing yards, led by 109 from Jashaun Corbin.
Milton didn’t surpass 100 passing yards in the game until a few minutes into the fourth quarter. The Seminoles finished with 7.4 yards per completion and 4.2 yards per pass attempt.
For as explosive as the Seminoles were against Notre Dame — breaking off two 60-plus-yard plays — that was totally absent against JSU. FSU had no plays of 30-plus yards and only one of 20 or more yards.
Defense falls apart
For the vast majority of Saturday’s game, the FSU defense was in control.
But after largely keeping JSU in check for the most part, the defense lacked any sort of clutch down the stretch.
As the offense got off to its slow start, the defense wore down, allowing the Gamecocks to draw first blood.
On JSU’s first-half touchdown drive, which lasted nearly seven minutes, FSU allowed conversions on a pair of third and nines and a second and 14 before finally surrendering a two-yard touchdown run which put them in a hole early in the second quarter.
For a long stretch from there, the FSU defense largely shut down the Gamecocks’ offense over the second and third quarters, allowing 24 yards of offense over a span of seven JSU possessions.
But the dam could only hold for so long. JSU moved the ball 180 yards over the final 9:49 of the game, converting third downs and taking advantage of every mishap FSU presented.
Cooper completed less than 50% of his passes, but had 242 passing yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers.
Discipline issues linger
While the offensive issues kept the Seminoles from distancing themselves, they also managed to shoot themselves in the foot with untimely penalties throughout Saturday’s game.
In all, the Seminoles amassed 114 yards of penalties against Jacksonville State. It’s the most penalty yardage an FSU team has been assessed since the Seminoles picked up 121 yards of penalties against NC State in 2018.
The biggest problem for FSU is that many of these came in some of the biggest moments.
Of the 97 yards JSU drove to cut into the Seminoles’ lead late, 39 of them came on penalties. While the defensive holding and pass interference extended the drive, the biggest was a targeting penalty on linebacker Kalen DeLoach.
It negated an interception, gave JSU an automatic first down on 3rd and 17 and, two plays later, led to a touchdown. It will also leave the Seminoles without one of their better linebackers for the first half of next week’s game at Wake Forest.
The offense also wasn’t exempt from penalty issues which consistently put them behind the chains. Everything from holding penalties to offensive pass interference and ineligible receivers downfield regularly put the Seminoles behind the chains.
This was something that the offensive coaching staff harped on this week coming off similar struggles against Notre Dame and it got worse against JSU.
Follow Curt Weiler on Twitter @CurtMWeiler